Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Artists: John Romita Jr. (p), Scott Hanna (i)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with Peter lamenting his typical bad luck, as we see his impromptu visit to California has resulted in him returning home, where a small mountain of problems have built up in his absence. We then see his late night tossing & turning is ended when he's magically compelled into a deep slumber by Doctor Strange, so he can converse with Peter on the dream plane. During this conversation we see Peter is given a warning that during his recent adventure on the astral plane, something took notice of him, and it followed him back. As Doctor Strange tells him this new threat is related to the spider-wasp (an insect that preys on spiders), we see Peter's prepared to dismiss this warning as a bizarre dream, but when he's confronted by a woman who bears a striking resemblance to the spider-wasp,we see Peter's spider-sense starts a screaming. As this spider-wasp woman doggedly pursues Spider-Man all across Manhattan, we see Spider-Man is bothered by the idea that this woman is able to track him & what's more she's established a telepathic bond with him, so the secrets locked inside his head are not safe from her. However, when Spider-Man's able to lose her in the subway, he's puzzled when she doesn't show up at his apartment later that night.
This issue J. Michael Straczynski introduces us to a new villain in Spider-Man's world, and much like Morlun, this one is unstoppable force that one rarely sees outside of a killer in a slasher film. However the final page adds a new twist as we see this spider-wasp woman doesn't look to be coming after Peter directly when he's not in costume, though it's clear her involvement in Spider-Man's life is hardly finished. She's a villain who would seem to know Peter's secrets, so like Morlun Peter has a serious problem when it comes to protecting his secret identity. This issue also shattered my illusion that spiders were the ultimate predators of the insect kingdom, as this is the first time I've ever heard of a creature that preys on spiders, and one has to love the decidedly horrific description that is given for the spider-wasp. There's also the simple fact that the spider-wasp woman is female, and while gender's not really important, Spider-Man's rogues gallery is completely devoid of any female villains, as the only ones the spring to mind are the female variants of the established male villains (e.g. the female Doctor Octopus, Scorpia). This spider-wasp woman looks to be a promising addition to Spider-Man's cast of baddies.
First off this issue starts off with a guest-appearance by Doctor Strange, and I have to say that it's great to see the good doctor seems to be a semi-regular guest in these pages, as the two characters work quite well off each other. In fact the scene where Spider-Man discusses the idea that Doctor Strange knows what he looks like without his mask on was a fun exercise, as we saw this valid concern turns into a delightfully silly bit of banter. I also enjoyed the idea that the story does acknowledge that Spider-Man's been in the hero game long enough that he's picked up a few tricks. We see he doesn't leap right into the fray with this new villain, as instead he decides to test the idea of whether she can track him by leading her on a merry chase across the city. Now I'm not sure how well the rest of his theory about not getting involved in a fight if the situation doesn't require his attention holds up, as Spider-Man's whole mantra is to not turn a blind eye to any wrongdoing, as the one time he did so, it cost him his Uncle Ben. Still the theory does have a nice sense of logic to it even if it doesn't really fit Spider-Man's method of operation, as Peter spends most of his nights actively seeking out crimes he can foil.
One has to love the cosmic forces at work that made John Romita Jr. such an ideal artist for this book, but there's also the sense of history that comes into play, when one considers the contributions that John Romita Sr. made to this series. In any event, this issue does make it seem like J. Michael Straczynski is tailoring his writing so it will highlight the strengths of his artist, as one has to love the surreal appearance of Peter's little meeting with Doctor Strange. There's also the heavy duty action scenes that make up this issue, as when the spider-wasp woman arrives on the scene, John Romita Jr.'s ability to deliver visually exciting action becomes patently obvious. We get a nice look at the character's agility, as Spider-Man recovers from having his web-line cut, but John Romtia Jr.'s specialty is the powerful impact shots, and this issue delivers these in spades. There's the scene where Spider-Man knocks his attacker into the collapsing collection of girders, or the follow-up scene where the two slam into the billboard. One also has to love the dark comedy of the subway car scene. The cover to this issue is also a welcome surprise, as Frank Cho steps in to provide a delightfully old-school shot of Spider-Man.
I've never been particularly enamored with this whole spider-totem hocus-pocus that J. Michael Straczynski looks to be trying to inject into Spider-Man's back-story, but it does serve as a pretty easy method for the creation of new villains who are obsessed with Spider-Man. I also like the idea that these new villains that J. Michael Straczynski comes up with are a constant threat to Peter, even after he takes off the mask, as it eliminates the barrier that is set up between these two different worlds, as Peter now has to cast a wary eye over his shoulder, even when he's in his civilian identity. I'll also give J. Michael Straczynski credit for taking the threat in a wholly unexpected direction in the final pages, as we see the spider-wasp woman does something truly unique, and I can't wait to see the fall out that comes about as a result of these actions. If nothing else I imagine Johnny Storm will have a field day with this little news item.
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